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Revitalizing the Memory of Sacco and Vanzetti
by Bill Templer
I wanted a roof for every family, bread for every mouth, education for every heart, light for every intellect. I am convinced that the human history has not yet begun — that we find ourselves in the last period of the prehistoric. I see with the eyes of my soul how the sky is diffused with rays of the new millennium. — Bartolomeo Vanzetti
Commemoration on the Streets of Boston
This past weekend marked 81 years since the execution of the two most famous class-war prisoners in our history, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, electrocuted in Massachusetts on 23 August 1927 on false murder charges, framed by the state for their anarchist convictions and activism. Since a proclamation by Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1977, the 23rd of August has been recognized as a kind of Sacco and Vanzetti Memorial Day in Massachusetts, the past three years revitalized with a march and rally organized by the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society in Boston, on whose Web site you can see a video of the 23 August 2008 march. There is a recent official proclamation by the Boston City Council supporting the SVCS and the August 23rd commemoration events.
The Socialist Party Boston also participated together with the SVCS in this year’s rally across from the old North Church in Boston’s North End. It was endorsed by other groups, including the Boston May Day Coalition, calling for a halt to state repression against immigrant workers. You can hear participants from the march and speakers from the Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement (BAAM) and other groups among those who addressed the rally, including local union organizers and Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner. They linked present anti-immigrant hysteria with the climate surrounding the Sacco and Vanzetti show trial and travesty of justice. In Massachusetts this past month, Operation Community Shield rounded up hundreds from the immigrant and refugees communities for detention and possible deportation.
State Repression Mounting
Raid in Jones County/MS
Less than 48 hours after the commemoration in Boston, on 25 August, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted a raid at Howard Industries in Laurel, Mississippi that resulted in the arrest of nearly 600 immigrant workers. Among the many arrested were mothers, about 100 of whom were fitted with electronic monitoring bracelets and allowed to go home to their children. This is the largest single-workplace immigration raid in US history, a move harkening “back to Mississippi’s shameful past of Jim Crow segregation, police brutality and violence,” in Jones County, once truly notorious as a center for KKK activity. In Poplarville, a short drive south of Laurel, the KKK staged an anti-immigration rally last year. During the 2007 elections, the Klan held a rally of 500 people in front of the Lee County courthouse in Tupelo in northern Mississippi, carrying signs saying, “Stop the Latino Invasion.”
Running down the Walls!
Simultaneous with commemoration in Boston, a run/walk/bike was held in California in support of class-war and political prisoners and POWs in the U.S. prison system “in honor of former political prisoners Sacco and Vanzetti.” The call to participate in the event, issued by the Los Angeles Anarchist Black Cross Federation, notes that today’s PP/POWs in the US “have been unfairly incarcerated while fighting for social justice and self-determination. They are our generation’s Sacco and Vanzetti.”
Stop the Raids, Detentions, Deportations!
Important here is the link between remembering Sacco and Vanzetti and current state repression against immigrant workers and families, class-war and political prisoners, the broader question of the death penalty, and the demonizing of dissident views. Peter Miller’s Sacco and Vanzetti, reviewed in MRZine by Michael D. Yates in December 2006, is a powerful documentary available on DVD. Peter discusses it in an interview, emphasizing that the film is also about immigrants, justice, and ethnicity in America today.
Similarly, the SVCS stresses:
We invoke our local history not only to remember Sacco and Vanzetti, but also to demonstrate how little has changed in the 81 years following their execution. Nationalist fear-mongering and the repression of dissidents is as prevalent today as it was during the Red Scare in the early 20th century. The way in which immigrants workers are rounded up, detained, and deported today under the pretext of a War on Terror, a War on Drugs, or securing our borders is eerily similar to the Palmer Raids targeting immigrants in the 1920s.
Repression against the undocumented is reaching a new high water mark across the US.
Nicola labored in a shoe factory in Stoughton, Bartolomeo was a fish peddler on Suassos Lane, an alley in north Plymouth. Some 25,000 demonstrated in Boston on the eve of the execution, and hundreds of thousands more in the streets in a “Death Watch” across the US. Police clashed with some 50,000 gathered in New York’s Union Square. 600,000 had signed a petition for a new trial. In Colorado, half the state’s miners responded to an IWW call for a two-day protest strike on 21 August 1927 against the planned execution. This action led directly to the IWW-organized massive miners’ strike in Colorado from October 1927 to February 1928, with the Columbine mine massacre on 21 November.
The prisoners were burned in the electric chair in Boston’s Charleston Prison shortly after midnight on the 23rd of August. At the funeral, 100,000 workers marched, arm in arm, defying the police. In Paris, large angry crowds descended on the US Embassy. There were mass vigils and rallies from Casablanca to Caracas, Munich to Mexico City. Proletarian support in Argentina was especially strong, igniting a general strike in Buenos Aires and later attacks on US firms and banks, organized in part by the Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni. This was the largest worker-led transnational protest campaign in modern history.
The convicting judge Webster Thayer, in referring to Sacco in his jury instructions, said: “Although this man may not have committed the crime attributed to him, he is nonetheless culpable because he is the enemy of our existing institutions.” He boasted to associates about what he had done to “those anarchist bastards.” After Thayer’s home was bombed in 1932, he lived the last year of his life under 24/7 police guard at his club in Boston.
Sacco addressed Thayer after the death sentence on 9 April 1927:
I know the sentence will be between two classes, the oppressed class and the rich class, and there will be always collision between one and the other. We fraternize the people with the books, with the literature. You persecute the people, tyrannize them and kill them. We try the education of people always. You try to put a path between us and some other nationality that hates each other. That is why I am here today on this bench, for having been of the oppressed class. Well, you are the oppressor.
Italian Anarchist Solidarity
Workers’ protest against the execution was in evidence even in fascist Italy in the mid-1920s and the supposed support of dictator Mussolini for their release. Their remembrance is enshrined in Italian public memory as part of its heavy “American baggage.” Last year the memory of Nicola Ferdinando Sacco was specially commemorated in his birthplace Torremaggiore in Apulia in Italy’s southeastern ‘heel.’ This year, in Torremaggiore, the Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici participated 22-23 August in a vigil organized by the Associazione Sacco & Vanzetti, in cooperation with Amnesty International, Nessuno Tocchi Caino, and the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty, expressing solidarity with Afghan journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, sentenced at home to death for blasphemy. A highpoint of the event was the appearance of Maria Fernanda Sacco, granddaughter of Nicola. She is honorary president of the Associazione. Maria Fernanda presented her new book, I miei ricordi di una tragedia familiare (My memories of a family tragedy), published in mid-August.
The FdCA stresses that today in Italy, “episodes of racism and intolerance (including institutional racism and intolerance), the violation of the human rights of asylum-seekers and Roma, the violation of human rights in prisons and immigrant detention centres, the day work and untrammeled exploitation on farms, all testify to the importance even today of the fate of the two Italian anarchists murdered in America, of their cry for freedom, dignity and social justice.” This is especially true in the current anti-immigrant political climate across Italy and government crackdown on Roma migrants from the Balkans. The EU is especially concerned about the ‘socioeconomic inclusion’ of the Roma subaltern class into its structures of neoliberalism.
Through an Italian Lens
Guiliano Montaldo’s feature film Sacco e Vanzetti (1971) can now be viewed in full in the original Italian online. Its first scene reconstructing a brutal police raid on Italian immigrant workers in Boston, without dialogue, is riveting and true to history. This extraordinary film needs to be re-released with English subtitles and made available to a worldwide audience. Fabrizio Costa’s recent TV film Sacco e Vanzetti (2005) likewise needs to be released with English subtitles. It has been well received by some on the anarchist Italian Left as a ‘remake’ of Montaldo’s flick. A lesser-known documentary in English that deserves broad distribution, directed by Italian-born anarchist scholar and activist Pietro Ferrua, was telecast in 1988 on the History Channel, The True Story of Sacco and Vanzetti.
A Rich Cultural and Media Legacy
Political Ballad Online
Dave Rovics performs Woody Guthrie’s “Two Good Men” (its lyrics here). Guthrie was commissioned in 1945 by Moe Asch, radical Warsaw-born son of novelist Sholem Asch and later founder of Folkways Records, to write 12 ballads about Sacco and Vanzetti, recorded in 1946-47. Woody called the assignment “the most important dozen songs I’ve ever worked on,” but was not very pleased with what he produced. The recordings were finally released in 1964 on Folkways. One of the great songs is “Root Hog and Die.”
Joan Baez sings “Here’s to You” and the “Ballad of Sacco and Vanzetti” (first two parts, music by Ennio Morricone, from the 1971 Montaldo film, full lyrics online. If you know German, powerful is Franz-Josef Degenhardt‘s song about Sacco and Vanzetti — coupled with reference to Angela Davis, written in 1970 when Angela was behind bars.
Many poems over the years, in many languages, are collected on the Web site of the Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society, a representative sampling in English. Memorable is Wobbly troubadour Jim Seymour’s poem “Sacco and Vanzetti,” which looks at the virulent racism directed against “a couple o’ God damn dagoes!” (in J.L. Kornbluh, ed.,
30 agosto 2008
Pubblicato da susannacotugno |
Commenti, diritti umani, freedom, History, human rights, news from all over the world, opinioni politiche, Storia | Amnesty International, Anarchist, Boston, Death Penalty, deportation, Detention, Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici, immigrant, Memorial Day, Nessuno Tocchi Caino, political prisoners, refugees, Sacco and Vanzetti, Socialist Party, World Coalition Against The Death Penalty |
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30 agosto 2008 Pubblicato da susannacotugno | Commenti, diritti umani, freedom, History, human rights, news from all over the world, opinioni politiche, Storia | Amnesty International, Anarchist, Boston, Death Penalty, deportation, Detention, Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici, immigrant, Memorial Day, Nessuno Tocchi Caino, political prisoners, refugees, Sacco and Vanzetti, Socialist Party, World Coalition Against The Death Penalty | Lascia un commento
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